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Ownership of Chemicals that Exploded at Beirut Port Traces Back to Ukraine

In the year since a massive shipment of ammonium nitrate exploded at Beirut port and devastated Lebanon’s capital, one of the most basic questions has proven one of the hardest to answer: Who actually owned the cargo?

Just after the blast, reporters discovered that a dormant London-registered company called Savaro Ltd had chartered the 2,750-ton shipment in 2013, intending to send it from Georgia to an explosives factory in Mozambique.

Instead, the vessel carrying it, the MV Rhosus, was detained in Beirut over unpaid debts and technical defects. The cargo sat in a warehouse until August 4, 2020, when it detonated in one of the largest non-nuclear blasts in history, killing over 200 people and displacing more than 300,000.

But figuring out just who owns Savaro has turned out to be a challenge. The company’s true shareholders are hidden behind offshore nominee directors and shareholders.

A Ukrainian businessman, Volodymyr Verbonol, who owned a company of the same name in the city of Dnipro, came under initial scrutiny. But after denying he had any connection to the Beirut shipment, he mostly escaped further attention.

An investigation by OCCRP and its partners, including The Docket – a Clooney Foundation for Justice initiative – has now proven that Verbonol was indeed behind Savaro. Following a trail of documents, journalists also found that the company was part of a larger business network that traded in technical-grade ammonium nitrate of the sort used to make explosives.

“Savaro and the people that control it have a responsibility to ensure that their cargo is stored properly and is not a risk to people,” Mark Taylor, Senior Analyst at The Docket, an initiative of the Clooney Foundation for Justice, told OCCRP. “It’s not okay, under the international human rights regime, to just dump dangerous chemicals in a warehouse and walk away.”


For the full investigation visit OCCRP.org